William Skirving - Scottish Martyr

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1/4 William Skirving (1) of Nether Liberton, father of William (2) the Martyr, was a prosperous farmer in Midlothian, near Edinburgh. See also William's Family Tree
William (1) marries? No information as to William's spouse has been found.
3 ca. 1745 William (2) born. His birth date is based on William being 'in his 50s' at the time of his death in 1796. His siblings were, Robert, John (who died prior to 1766), James, Walter, Janet, Francis, Isobel and Maysa, but little is known of them.
4 William (2) attended Haddington Grammer School
4 Educated at Edinburgh University, for the Secession Church (according to Cockburn)
4 Tutor in the family of Sir Alexander Dick, Prestonfield, Edinburgh..
Farmed at Damhead (believed to be Damhead, Midlothian, not Fife)
08/01/1775 Marries Rachel Abercrombie, (b. 1748 the only child of Janet Mackleron and Andrew Abercrombie, tenant farmer of Stathruddie, in Fife and merchant in Kirkcaldy) in Edinburgh.
3 13/04/1775 William Skirving (1) of Nether Liberton, passed on several of his tacks, including one at Stenhouse, near Liberton Kirk, to William (2) his eldest son.
(3) 1776 Death of William (1) senior. The date is assumed by reference to the Lawson papers.
4 23/10/1779 William (1) was living in St Cuthbert's parish Edinburgh when son William (3) baptised there. This son married Sophia Paton, in Edinburgh in 1799
4 20/07/1782 Living in St Cuthbert's parish Edinburgh when son Alexander was baptised there.
6 1790 Living at Damhead in the Pentlands ?
6 1791 Moved to Strathruddie, Fife ?
1/8 26/01/1788 {The First Fleet, of eleven vessels, with nearly 800 convicts in six transports, arrived in Sydney Cove, Australia}
9 1792 William (2) publishes his book on farming (The Husbandmans' Assistant, Vol 1, printed by Hugh Inlis, for the author, Edinburgh, 1792. 446 pp. illus.
The second volume was written, but never published)
6 Aug 1792 William (2) became Secretary to the Friends of the People, Edinburgh, based at Horse-wynd, Blackfriar's Wynd and Old Assembly Close, Cowgate.
1 11/12/1792 First Convention of the Scottish Friends of the People, held in Edinburgh.
1 02/02/1793 Muir arrested
1 30/08/1793 Muir's trial commenced in Edinburgh. Muir and Palmer sentenced to 7-14 years transportation.
Sep 1793 Robert Burns writes 'Scots wha hae?', a poem responding to the severity of the sentences received by Muir and Palmer.
4 19/11/1793 Skirving (2), as General Secretary, headed the Scottish delegation at the British Convention of the Friends of the People, in Edinburgh.
4 05/12/1793 Margarot, Gerrald and Skirving arrested and charged with sedition.
11 6-7/01/1794 William Skirving, (of Strathruddie, lately tenant of Damhead), tried before Lord Blaxfield. Found guilty and sentenced to 14 years transportation.
4 Skirving set to London's Newgate Gaol.
5 Feb 1794 Skirving, Thomas Muir, John Fysche Palmer and Maurice Margarot placed on prison Hulks in the Thames, in preparation for their deportation to Australia
1 Feb-May
Skirving and colleagues linger aboard 'The Surprize' near Portsmouth.
5 02/05/1794 The Surprize sailed from Porthsmouth, and began its 13,000 mile journey to Botany Bay.
6 28/07/1794 The Surprize lying at Rio de Janeiro
8 25/10/1794 The Surprize reaches New South Wales
4 Muir, Skirving and Palmer allocated three adjoining brick houses (on a site now traversed by O'Connel Street)
2/10 19/03/1796 Skirving died at his Sydney house, from dysentery.When recording Skirving's burial, the Rev. Richard Johnston added a notation in the register - 'a seditionist, but a man of reputable moral conduct'
7 1796 Ferguson of Raith provided a house for Skirving's widow and family at 59 Nicol Street, Kirkcaldy.
9 (The elder son, William (3) was a handloom weaver. He married and had a son Andrew who died 27/02/1895 at the home of his only daughter in Leith.
William's (2) second son, Alexander, went to Glasgow, and from humble beginnings became principal of one of the largest firms in the city, Messrs Barclay & Skirving, auctioneers.)
8 20/02/1837 It was decided to commemorate the Scottish Martyrs by erecting a monument in the two capital cities of Edinburgh and London.
5 21/08/1844 One of William's sons made a speech at a meeting held to celebrate the opening of the 90ft high monument erected in Edinburgh to commemorate the 'Scottish Martyrs'. See Scotsman Newspaper, 24th Aug 1844)
8 24/08/1844 Three thousand gathered in the Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh, to see Thomas Hume lay the foundation stone of the Scottish Memorial to the Martyrs.
11 Sep 1845 Monument completed. (Scotsman, 1st October 1845)
8 Feb 1851 The memorial in London's Nunhead Cemetery was unveiled


1. Web article on Thomas Muir, by Charles McGregor. Source: Steel's "Scotland Story"

2. Web article on Abbot House, Dumfermline

3. The Lawson papers (documents held by the author)

4. The People of the Convict Ship, 'Surprize', by Michael Flynn, Pub Australia by Angela Lind, 1994, p. 132

5. Parliamentary Reform 1750 -1832 Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk

6. Dr. Barclay, Abbot House, Dunfermline (private communication)

7. Article on William Skirving, by Anne Mead, Cardenden Local History Group.

8. The Scottish Martyrs, by Wally Macfarlane. Pub by Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, 1983. ISBN 0 9508881 0 9.

9. Kirkcaldy Library - document reference 'W Skirving, 920(K), and accompanying letter

10. Extract from the Register of burials in Port Jackson, 1796. St Philip's Church, Sydney, Australia.

11. The Scottish Martyrs, Their Trials and Transportation to Botany Bay, by Frank Clune. Published 1969 by Angus and Robertson Ltd, Sydney. SBN 207 95254 x.